The kids are coming, the kids are coming

That’s what we say when at first, 15 students came as part of the Oconomowoc High School seminar digital communications class, and then it grew to 27, then 35 and now over 40 students descend on Shorehaven each year to explore our people, our vocations and the similarity, not differences, between generations.

And we are pumped. I worry. I’m not cool enough to work with OHS seniors. They will see me as the complete dweeb that I am. Kira, our youthful fitness center manager, consoles me that these kids are people, too.

We line up dept. heads at stations to tour the entire campus, café, fitness center, pavilion, lakefront and living areas, then we connect them with resident ambassadors who show them their apartments and favorite spots.

Within minutes, intergenerational bonds are made and myths are dispelled.

Through TED Talks:

Students present topics of choice to a group of residents and community seniors every Tuesday for a month.

The Roehl Auditorium is filled and spirited discussion takes place between youth and seniors.

Topics include everything from escapism, to addiction, sports injuries, conspiracy theories, homelessness, artificial intelligence, happiness and even the topic of milk.

One student stepped forward this week to describe growing up in homeless shelters and moving 26 times in her childhood. Last year, a student described  turning to destructive behaviors and then turning his life around.

And it’s an open slate with the audience. “These children are bearing their souls,” Kathy, an audience member said yesterday. “It’s good for the kids, and good for us to hear them. They’re talking to us like we’re real people.”

Some of our seniors feel left out of discussion, their career behind them, their perceived losing their place as a valued societal member. And some of the students feel a little lost too. So between the parties, respect grows, stereotypes dropped and connections are made.

“These TED Talks have convinced me that there is real hope for our future,” Kathy said yesterday. “These kids are giving us old folks that hope.”

Device help

“The young man doesn’t even have an Apple watch and he taught me how to use mine.” Students works with seniors one on one on IPads, laptops, watches, fitbits and Iphones. “He didn’t even treat me as if I were stupid,” Carol noted last week.

Grandchildren’s email and pictures and retrieved, Facebook profiles updates, and again, connections made. The ongoing weekly sessions establish a communal platform for laughter, engagement, student success and senior breakthroughs. “Will my grandkids ever be impressed with me now,” participant Neal said.


On the initial class tour, students learned of our trishaw, a bicycle that tours our residents through downtown, of our levels of care and different career paths. One group got to sit in MaryLouise’s independent living apt and hear her military stories of being the only female veteran on our campus.

Resident Ruth described what is was like to teach special education decades before and the inclusion efforts teachers employ now.

“’Your peers are not the people the same age as you, they are the people who share your interests’. And how true … age has no barriers. How very fortunate we are to have opportunity to connect with young people who enhance our lives by their interest and enthusiasm, yet also learn from those of us who have already experienced living over time,” Ruth noted.

Shorehaven CEO Dale Dahlke noted, “We are more than grateful for the partnership we have with the Oconomowoc Area School District.  Whether it is students seeking employment in a field that will help to launch a career in the medical field or just serve to provide a paycheck as they seek to discover what their calling might be, we are pleased to be a part of their journey.  I know that the engagement our residents have experienced with the students, both directly and indirectly has proven to be more beneficial than we can possibly be able to measure or know.”

“We’re happy when we leave Shorehaven,” students Sophie and Destiny just told me after Device Help. “This place is not scary.  It’s super inviting and super homey and it feels like one big family. That’s what we can take away with us.”

So if you as a business are thinking of mentoring a student, speaking in their class, inviting them to your business, taking them for a soda downtown, don’t hesitate, just do it. You are cool enough to connect with high school seniors. They’re seeking real work life experiences and you’ve got plenty to offer.